Gamers Set to Fight for Net Neutrality. Battle Axes, Plasma Guns Optional

Warlocks, cybernetic super-soldiers and card sharks are forming an unlikely alliance against a formidable enemy — Internet service providers that want to charge certain customers higher monthly fees for online access. “I haven’t heard about this before,” said a 21-year-old girl gamer better known as “Popsicles.” Her character — a chubby, redheaded dwarf with a thick Irish brogue — may be at the center of the World of Warcraft, but she’s not alone among the estimated 10 million global subscribers of this wildly popular sci-fi fantasy game.

A coalition of online game consumer advocates are organizing “Popsicles” and her pale-skinned, pizza-laden enthusiasts to join their “meat world” (otherwise known as the real world) counterparts fighting telecoms, like Comcast, from potentially charging more for home Internet users that frequent graphics- and audio-heavy sites that require a lot of bandwidth.

Gamers for Net Neutrality launched on April 1 with backgrounders on Internet freedom, action alerts and a computer-generated 3-D animation (click on the image at right) to explain the issue. The initiative is a joint project of the Entertainment Consumers Association, Gamers for Choice and Save the Internet to engage “Popsicles” and friends who spend upward of $10 billion annually on video games.

Some net neutrality advocates worry that Internet service providers may also attempt to limit access based on Web site content — well beyond the argument that the “pipes” that carry fiber optic transmissions are clogged with large music and video file downloads.

Those concerns are well-placed. In 2005 the Federal Communications Commission abandoned longtime regulations that prevented telecoms from discriminating against certain Web sites over others. As Colorado Confidential reported in January:

Some of the owners of “the pipes” have been pretty straightforward about wanting to control their networks and make more money from them. AT&T’s Ed Whitacre was quoted in BusinessWeek:

“Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?”

Even the American Civil Liberties Union has gotten into the act with a statement on the GfNN Web site urging gamers to get informed.

Without net neutrality, fan sites, mod communities, and mutliplayer online role-playing games might find their online gaming shut off. Network will be able to charge gamers tolls to access their favorite games, in addition to the broadband connection fee that most users already pay.

“Net Neutrality is the single biggest public policy issue facing our communities today — as educators, non-profits, small businesses and the arts, we all deserve open and equal access to the internet,” says Suzanne Seggerman, president and co-founder of Games for Change. “Why let the telecom giants dictate what speed we play our games, view our video, or listen to music? Gamers, as one of the largest audiences on the internet, need to act now — before it’s too late.”

But the risk of stifling her ability to do battle with monsters in a fantasy world of wizards, warriors and rogues hasn’t quite convinced “Popsicles” to get politically involved, yet. “I think gamers would just pay up for their Internet service,” she says. What else are we going to do? This is our pastime.”

Read Colorado Confidential’s continuing coverage on net neutrality here.

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